While the Cayman Island trio currently attract streams of holidaymakers to their sparkling waters and sweeping beaches, it is unlikely that the British, or anyone else for that matter, would have found theseCaribbean delights quite so desirable when they were first discovered.
A carpeting of turtles lead Columbus to originally name the islands Las Tortugas (The Turtles), and, even less invitingly, the word ‘Cayman’ probably comes from the Carib word for marine crocodile, caymanas, suggesting that the islands were also well-populated with somewhat snappier reptiles. In addition to this, the Cayman Islands – Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac – have long been tied to a history of buccaneers and pirates, who, legend has it, once established hideouts here.
For the 21st century traveller, all of this is easy to forget while luxuriating on wide, sandy stretches, beside crystal waters teeming with coral reefs and marine creatures; the Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman is particularly popular and deservedly so. So while past Cayman explorers faced sharp teeth and ruthless foe, today’s visitor has the rather more enjoyable activities of diving amid ship wrecks, roving though mangrove swamps, wandering ancient forest and watching an array of colourful marine life go by.
Things to see and do
Visit Booby Pond on Little Cayman, which hosts the world’s largest colony of red-footed boobies, or the Parrot Reserve on Cayman Brac , home to the endangered Cayman Brac parrot.
Boatswain’s Beach in West Bay is a commercial turtle farm where visitors can watch sea turtles at various stages of their development. There’s also an artificial predator reef, a snorkelling lagoon, an aviary, and a cultural centre.
Cayman Brac caves
The Bluff that runs along the centre of Cayman Brac is riddled with caves, many of them with tales to tell about the islanders who have sheltered there during hurricanes.
Experience the Atlantis Submarine
Delve beneath the deep completely wetsuit-free with the Atlantis Submarine, which offers hour-long trips to view the spectacular reefs.
The islands’ capital and main port is an attractive place to explore, and the pretty harbour front is lined with traditional Caymanian buildings that look like gingerbread houses.
The deep waters surrounding Grand Cayman are prime fishing grounds, offering various species of large fish. The annual International Fishing Tournament takes place in April.
Go to Hell and back – literally. The peculiar rock formations of this area of Grand Cayman have evolved from shells and corals solidified by salt and lime deposits. A close examination reveals petrified forms of sea life that could be up to 20 million years old.
Hike the Mastic Trail
Hike through the mangrove swamps and ancient forest along Grand Cayman’s Mastic Trail, linking Frank Sound to Old Man Bay. The trail dates back to the 18th century and passes through a variety of flora and fauna.
Local, American and British art is on display at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, George Town.
Learn the history of the islands in The Cayman Islands National Museum , George Town, where there are interactive exhibits and a good shop.
Pedro St James
This early 19th century plantation great house and is set in beautiful grounds by the sea in Savannah. The oldest building in the Cayman Islands, it was the site of the 1831 proclamation ending slavery in the islands.
Cayman’s offshore reefs and walls – including Little Cayman’s Bloody Bay Wall – are world renowned for diving. Various locations also offer wreck diving, particularly Cayman Brac, where a Russian warship was intentionally sunk in the late 1990s. .
Seven Mile Beach
The turquoise waters of Grand Cayman’s West Bay are backed by the long, sandy Seven Mile Beach, and, while this is the main tourist centre and highly developed, this glorious stretch of coast retains its idyllic charms.
Snorkelling at Stingray City
Snorkel alongside southern stingrays at Stingray City in North Sound on Grand Cayman. These shallow waters are home to a profusion of stingrays and visitors can get right up close with these intriguing marine life.
Need to polish up your board skills before hitting the beach? Learn to surf in a wave tank at Black Pearl Skate and Surf, in Grand Harbour.
Visit a spa
For ultra indulgence and rejuvenation, chill out in one of the smart hotel spas alongside Seven Mile Beach. Contact the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism for details (see Contact Addresses).
Wander Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park
Wander around the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, a 26-hectare (65-acre) heritage garden boasting a vivid array of cacti, shrubs and native flowers. The park has become the focus of a conservation programme to protect the endangered Cayman blue iguana.